Tom Wolfe, the author of such legendary novels as “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” died Monday after being hospitalized for an infection, his agent told the Wall Street Journal. He was 88.
Wolfe’s agent Lynn Nesbit told The Wall Street Journal he died of pneumonia in a New York hospital on Monday.
Wolfe is credited with being the founder of New Journalism. He insisted the only way to tell a great story was to go out and report it. His hyperbolic, stylized writing work was a gleeful fusillade of exclamation points, italics and improbable words.
One of the lines in “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” for example, reads: “They go, ‘Hehhehheh … unnnnhhhh-hunhhh...'”
An ingenious phrase maker, Wolfe helped brand such expressions as “radical chic” for rich liberals’ fascination with revolutionaries; and the “Me” generation, defining the self-absorbed baby boomers of the 1970s.
Among his acclaimed books were “The Right Stuff” and “A Man in Full.” His best-known work, “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” a satire of Manhattan-style power and justice became one of the best-selling books of the 1980’s.
“The Bonfire of the Vanities” was adapted into a movie in 1990 starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. “The Right Stuff” was also adapted into a film in 1983 starring Dennis Quaid and Ed Harris.
Wolfe was born in Richmond, Va., and had an unsuccessful pitching tryout with the New York Giants before heading to Yale University, from which he earned a Ph.D. in American studies. He wrote for publications such as the Washington Post and the New York Herald-Tribune.
He was known for wearing his signature white suit. Wolfe lived a private life in Manhattan with his wife Sheila Wolfe, the former art director for Harper’s magazine. The two wed in 1978 when he was 48 years old and have two children, Alexandra and Thomas.
Condolences poured in from public figures, celebrities and writers following the news of Wolfe’s death.
Director Kevin Smith tweeted he was a “big fan of Tom Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ and I’ve seen ‘The Right Stuff’ fifty times. This man’s work improved my vocabulary and captured my imagination. Fare the well, Wordsmith.”
Author “The Orchid Thief” author Susan Orlean tweeted her condolences.
“Tom Wolfe has died. His work changed my life and convinced me to write nonfiction. Fare thee well, Tom.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.